SLAVE TO NO ONE

Aged 69 (prob­a­bly), Grace Jones still loves to per­form naked, re­quires Cristal cham­pagne and oys­ters be­fore she’ll go on stage and proudly pro­claims her­self a ‘high-fly­ing bitch’. Jes­samy Calkin gets a be­hind-thescenes glimpse of a diva on a roll.

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

At the Wilder­ness fes­ti­val in Corn­bury Park in Ox­ford­shire, a large box of oys­ters is be­ing fer­ried to the Por­tak­abin that serves as Grace Jones’ dress­ing room. Six bot­tles of Cristal are al­ready lined up on ice in there, along with a few bot­tles of very ex­pen­sive white wine and some good vin­tage red. This is Jones’ stan­dard rider.

There is a flurry of ac­tiv­ity; her band are there (in­clud­ing her son, Paulo), along with her friend, ac­tor Sarah Dou­glas, her brother Chris, her man­ager Bren­dan, her wardrobe head and two as­sis­tants jug­gling Philip Treacy hats, plus Mar­jorie Grant, who man­ages her busi­ness af­fairs. And So­phie Fi­ennes, who has made a film about her.

Jones oozes out of her trailer and leers at us all. She is wear­ing — well, noth­ing, re­ally.

Noth­ing sub­stan­tial. A lot of white war paint (she looks like one of Don McCullin’s tribal pho­to­graphs), a corset that cov­ers a bit of her midriff, a veil and a golden skull mask, and some fairly ridicu­lous shoes, one of which gets stuck as she’s climb­ing up the wooden steps to the stage.

Even in this out­fit she has an as­ton­ish­ing amount of el­e­gance and grav­i­tas. She takes one look at the stage and comes back down again. “I’m not go­ing on! There’s no wine!” She stomps down the stairs. “Bren­dan?” she shouts to her man­ager. “Are you ner­vous?” She cack­les — she has a fab­u­lous laugh — and every­one re­laxes.

She does per­form, of course. Boy, does she per­form. All her hits — La Vie en Rose, Warm

Leatherette, Love Is the Drug — with a dif­fer­ent elab­o­rate cos­tume for each song — gi­ant net skirt, bus­tles, wigs, a breath­tak­ing va­ri­ety of hats (“It’s a church thing!”) — chang­ing at the back of the stage, chat­ting to the au­di­ence all the while through her mi­cro­phone.

There’s a Valkyrie hel­met and long, white wig, in which she is pa­raded through the crowd on the shoul­ders of an oblig­ing se­cu­rity man, and for My Ja­maican Guy she comes on in a win­ning trilby and dildo com­bi­na­tion, a black shawl barely cov­er­ing her breasts, and dances on a podium over­look­ing the stage.

A mus­cu­lar ac­ro­bat called Nico Modes­tine en­hances things with a spec­tac­u­lar dis­play of pole danc­ing. The fa­mous hoop comes out for

Slave to the Rhythm and Jones in­tro­duces her band while do­ing a long, slow hula. It’s al­most shamanic. The band are grin­ning and the au­di­ence crack­les with ex­cite­ment.

“I’m hav­ing the best party!” whoops Jones. “Damn it! I FEEL that love.”

Jones is 69. Or thereabouts. She loves all the con­fu­sion around her age and is hazy on these things but the gen­eral con­sen­sus is that she was born in 1948. She looks in­cred­i­ble. Her body is still ath­letic and slim and pow­er­ful-look­ing. Her face is un­lined — wider, but not fat­ter, than in her youth.

Her fear of nee­dles has ex­empted her from hav­ing any plas­tic surgery (and heroin ad­dic­tion, pos­si­bly). It is ge­netic, she says. Her mother (who died in Oc­to­ber, at the age of 88) had “skin like a baby’s butt”.

“I’m in time,” says Jones. “I don’t think about get­ting older. Peo­ple look older be­cause they’re so busy think­ing about it.” She has not slowed down. “I just take my time.”

Nor does she seem like a per­son who has mel­lowed with age. “Of course I’m mel­low! I’m not beat­ing peo­ple up like I used to. I’ve just fig­ured out that the con­se­quences are not worth it. Sure, I’d like to box a few peo­ple around when they get in my face, but I’ve got wiser now. I use in­tel­li­gence more and di-plo-macy ...” she picks at the word. “I was not a diplo­mat, but now I have more pa­tience.”

Here she is pos­si­bly re­fer­ring to the fa­mous Rus­sell Harty in­ci­dent of 1981, when the chat­show host first pa­tro­n­ised her, and then turned his back on her dur­ing his tele­vi­sion show. She slapped him and hit him re­peat­edly. It be­came a defin­ing mo­ment in both their ca­reers.

THE CON­NEC­TION be­tween So­phie Fi­ennes and Grace Jones was forged dur­ing a din­ner at L’Etoile res­tau­rant in Lon­don, in the spring of 2002. Fi­ennes had just screened her new film, a doc­u­men­tary called Hoover Street Re­vival, about Bishop Noel Jones, Grace’s brother, and his church com­mu­nity in South Cen­tral LA. When the screen­ing fin­ished, Jones — whom Fi­ennes had never met — was on her feet, whoop­ing and clap­ping.

“I love the smell of your film,” she called across the screen­ing room in her distinc­tive throaty drawl.

Later, she plied Fi­ennes with ques­tions about film­ing Noel’s world. Her own ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up with the church had been bit­ter. “Honey,” she said to Fi­ennes. “I am church­burnt! To a cin­der. To a cr­rrris­sppp!”

“It was clas­sic Grace,” says Fi­ennes, “She’s bril­liant with lan­guage — when she’s do­ing vo­cals in the studio, it’s a bit like Noel’s preach­ing. Lan­guage is like clay to her; she plays with it.”

Fi­ennes — a con­firmed athe­ist — told Jones about an ex­pe­ri­ence she’d had while film­ing in Noel’s church. It was Mother’s Day. Fi­ennes’ mother Jini (the artist and nov­el­ist Jennifer Lash) had died of can­cer sev­eral years ear­lier, leav­ing be­hind a hus­band and seven chil­dren, when Fi­ennes was 26.

Bishop Noel was preach­ing about Mother’s Day “and I sud­denly felt the spirit of my mother”, says Fi­ennes. “I was feel­ing her loss, the loss of con­tact with her chil­dren, the loss of moth­er­hood, I felt like she came into my body and I ex­pe­ri­enced her grief. It was as if she was in­side me, an­i­mat­ing me. And I sud­denly had this out­burst of cry­ing and sob­bing, and some­one asked, ‘Are you okay?’ And I said, ‘I’m fine, I’m cry­ing my mother’s tears. These are my mother’s tears, they’re not mine.’”

Fi­ennes told Jones her story, and Jones ex­claimed, “Oh my God, I love that!” And she wrote a song called I’m Cry­ing (Mother’s Tears) which is on the Hur­ri­cane al­bum. “We con­nected through that po­ten­tial in church for these re­ally quite wild things to hap­pen.”

“The first time we met, it was like we were sis­ters in an­other life,” Jones tells me. “It was like two gyp­sies re­ally. I was very com­fort­able with her.”

SHE ALSO liked the fact that Fi­ennes, too, came from a big fam­ily (her five broth­ers in­clude the ac­tors Ralph and Joseph). They de­cided to work on a film to­gether, but it was un­cer­tain what that would be. Jones loves to col­lab­o­rate and Fi­ennes made a de­ci­sion to free­wheel — she thought, I’ll just shoot and shoot un­til I’ve got enough ma­te­rial.

I don’t think about get­ting older. Peo­ple look older be­cause they’re so busy think­ing about it. I just take my time. Grace Jones

Grace Jones pho­tographed for the cover of her Night­club­bing al­bum, 1981.

Jones with Dolph Lund­gren at Kamikaze Club in New York City, in 1983.

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